William Spratling was an American-born silver designer and artist, best known for his influence on 20th century Mexican silver design. Spratling was born in 1900 in Sonyea, Livingston County, New York, the son of epileptologist William P. Spratling
Always, our initial reason for looking at hallmarks is so that we can determine the name of the designer or silversmith. Too often, however, we have assumed that any Spratling primary hallmark (the mark which identifies Spratling as the designer) is a guarantee of authenticity. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Hallmarks alone do not provide conclusive identification for any highly sought after designer’s work because they can be too easily copied. Hallmarks are but one of the tools that we must use in determining whether an item was designed by Spratling and actually produced in his workshop during his lifetime.
In William Spratling’s autobiography File on Spratling he says “Worthwhile silver requires that it be identified with the name and reputation of its maker.” Additional hallmarks can provide information about the silver content as well as occasional supplementary information. We are fortunate that our research has provided information that now allows us to be able to use the variation in the small hallmark details to assist us in identifying a date range that the specific item was made as well as confirm details that verify authentication.
It is important to note that Spratling insisted that every piece of silver that was produced in the Spratling workshop should be hallmarked with the Spratling hallmark/hallmarks in use at that particular time. (It is conceivable that a few items did leave the workshop without hallmarks, but their monetary value should be far less than appropriately marked pieces.) Spratling’s maestros and silversmiths never included their own hallmarks or identifying marks on the items made in his workshop Particularly in the case of jewelry made with links, we occasionally find Spratling designs without a primary Spratling hallmark, even though it may have secondary and/or tertiary marks. It is possible that a former owner of the item had links removed to make the item smaller, or to create earrings and it may have been that missing link that bore the primary hallmark. It is often impossible to determine whether such pieces without a Spratling primary mark are missing a link or are copies made during that same period. The prices paid, however, for items without Spratling’s primary hallmark should be less than those fully marked.
William Spratling designed and produced silver from 1931 until 1967. Circa 1933 Spratling began to use a hallmarking system that he retained until his death in 1967. This hallmarking system included a primary hallmark that identified Spratling as the designer of the item: for instance, the mark WS Print. A secondary hallmark identified the place of manufacture: for instance Taxco. A tertiary mark specified the silver content of the item: for instance 980. And occasionally, Spratling used an other mark which provided additional information about the piece: for instance Conquistador Shield. Please note that these designations refer to the type of information provided, not the location of the hallmark on the item.
Secondary and tertiary marks were not unique to Spratling. For instance, the mark Taxco or Taxco Mexico or Made in Mexico does not assure this is a Spratling item unless the primary mark is one of Spratling’s primary marks appropriate to the period. Likewise, the tertiary marks 925 or 980 are not indicative of a Spratling design unless the primary mark is an appropriate Spratling mark. The dies used to produce these specific secondary and tertiary marks were available to everyone who wanted to purchase them. They are NOT indicative of a specific silversmith or designer. You can see that the most important mark is the primary mark because it is that mark that identifies Spratling as the designer.
Over the last 30+ years, many of his designs (and adaptations of his designs) have continued to be produced by the Sucesores de William Spratling and even today are available from them as new pieces. Recently, others have started to produce “new” Spratling designs as well. But we must remember that many of Spratling’s designs were also copied at the time Spratling was producing them. (He often said that his designs had an “exclusive” time frame of only about three weeks.) Rarely did those copies produced during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s also copy Spratling’s hallmarks. Instead those designs may have been marked with the silversmith’s name or initials, “Mexico Silver”, or any other name.
It has been primarily during the last thirty years that Spratling’s hallmarks have been deliberately copied. (One of the easiest ways to identify many non authentic Spratling items is to know what groups of hallmarks (primary, secondary, tertiary, and other marks) were used together. During Spratling’s lifetime, he changed the primary hallmark (and combinations of hallmarks) a number of times. Usually such changes occurred when the company increased or decreased its size or changed its structure or format. By knowing when each hallmark (or hallmark grouping) was used, we can then deduce approximately when a particular object was produced. In addition, the dies used to stamp the hallmark on the silver item needed to be replaced occasionally, and the variations in these hand made dies also help to refine date ranges. For more information about – and photos of – these variations,
The photographs below of hallmarks found on silver designed by William Spratling are arranged in chronological groupings. These photographs were taken from actual objects. Please remember that there will always be variation in marks due to wearing of dies, slight differences in die manufacture, amount and uniformity of the pressure applied when stamping, etc. Some items may have several marks; others may have only one. And the same design may be found with earlier or later “sets” of hallmarks from the same design period indicating that the design was produced over a number of years. As we continue our research, we hope to be able to better understand the usage of each of these marks and better determine the specific time frames. We are grateful for your information and feedback!
Spratling’s First Design Period: 1931 – 1946
These primary marks pictured directly below are the earliest hallmarks Spratling used and are arranged in chronological order. The time frame for these three hallmarks was circa 1931 until early 1940. Items with these marks were made of silver and occasionally included other materials in the design.
Circa 1939 was the earliest time that Spratling began to regularly use amethyst in his designs, and thus, the earliest primary hallmark we would expect to find on any Spratling design that includes amethyst would be the WS Print Later . During this period, Spratling also produced household items of wood, copper and tin. Those hallmarks are shown later in this section.
The primary WS Print Brand mark (inspired by the brand that Spratling used on his horses) was apparently used alone with no other mark. The primary marks WS Print and WS Print Later shown above were usually used in combination with one of the secondary marks (indicating location) and one of the tertiary marks (indicating silver content) shown below. The 980 tertiary mark was generally used on all jewelry and tea strainers. Spratling said that 980 silver had a softer glow and complemented a woman’s skin when used in jewelry. 980 silver also is more resistant to tarnish. 925 silver, because of its greater copper content, has greater strength – an important factor when used for household objects. The 925 mark generally appeared on objects other than jewelry and tea strainers.
None of the secondary marks (Taxco or Taxco Mexico) or the tertiary marks, 925 or 980, was exclusive to Spratling. Merely finding these marks on an item of silver does not indicate that it came from the Spratling workshop unless it also bears an early Spratling primary mark of WS Print or WS Print Later.
In 1940 Spratling decided that he wanted his name “Spratling” (rather than just his initials) to appear on each of his silver designs, and so he created the primary hallmark, WS Print Circle. This primary mark was used from circa 1940 until circa 1946 when Spratling y Artesanos ceased operations. The secondary mark, Made in Mexico, appears to have been used only circa 1942. Also in 1940, at the same time that Spratling created a primary mark that featured his name in addition to his initials, he created a tertiary mark that also included his name:Spratling Silver. This new tertiary mark was in use circa 1940 – 1944. During the transition period circa 1940 when Spratling was changing from the tertiary marks 925 and 980 to the tertiary mark Spratling Silver, applied plaqueswere often used over the earlier marks on those silver pieces he had in his inventory.
Occasionally Made in Mexico was used on jewelry in combination only with the tertiary mark Spratling Silver. When this occurred, Spratling Silver served as a primary mark.
In the authentic WS Print Circle mark, the letters surrounding the circle were raised while the WS in the center was incised (cut into) into the silver. The Spratling Silver letters were raised in the oval cartouche. (The photographs do not adequately show the difference between the incised and raised letters.)
In 1944, Spratling discontinued using the tertiary mark, Spratling Silver, and instead substituted the tertiary mark, Sterling. The tertiary mark Sterling was used in combination with the primary mark WS Print Circle from circa 1944 – 1946.
The Silson primary hallmark appears on jewelry designs manufactured circa 1940 – 1944. These items are made of silver plated pot metal and were designed by Spratling to be commercially produced in quantity by the Victor Silson Company. Another version of this same Silson hallmark has Patent Pending across the center and was used prior to the final issuance of the actual patent. During the period that Silson was producing the silver plated Spratling designs for necklaces, bracelets, and pins, Spratling was concurrently producing these designs in 980 silver and marking them with his primary and tertiary marks of the period as shown above.
In 1948, the Mexican government decreed that the eagle hallmark was to be used for all items created for export and would guarantee that the items was of sterling quality. Within the eagle mark was specific number that was to be assigned to each applying silver manufacturing entity. That number would identify the silversmith or designer of that particular item. Silversmiths or designers who did not apply for their own number could have their silver items stamped with the “generic” eagle of their community. Mexico City was assigned the generic eagle number 1, Taxco was assigned number 3, etc. This system was in effect from early 1949 until, we believe, circa 1979. The numbers within the eagle hallmark that were assigned to Spratling and were used in combination with the specific Spratling primary mark of the period were 13, and later, 30, and 63 – all of which were specifically assigned to Spratling for his use during very specific years. (Occasionally, we find an Eagle 1 used in combination with Spratling’s primary hallmark. These items are either old Spratling designs (circa 1944 – 1946 that remained in a Mexico City retailer’s inventory until 1949 and were subsequently stamped with the generic Mexico City Eagle number prior to export or, in each known instance to date, was used on a single Spratling 1950 design.) These numbers (13, 30, and 63) were never reassigned to another silversmith. Thus, for example, even after Spratling’s death, the Eagle 63 was not given to another silversmith. The number (and its authentic stamp) was retired permanently.
|Eagle 1: Circa 1949 – 1979. Generic Mexico City mark||Eagle 13: Circa 1949 – 1952. Used only for the “Spratling/Conquistador” designs||Eagle 30: Circa 1951 – 1965||Eagle 63: Circa 1965 – 1967|
Spratling’s Second Design Period: 1949 – 1951
Although none of the Alaskan prototype models produced in 1949 was made available for sale, an examination of those now in museum collections shows that the primary mark that Spratling used for these models was the WS Script mark.
In 1949, 1950 and early 1951, the primary mark shown below on the left was used on a special group of pieces designed by Spratling and produced both by Spratling at his ranch and by the Conquistador factory in Mexico City. These items were also stamped with the tertiary mark, Eagle 13. Each of the specific items actually produced in the Conquistador factory in Mexico City also was marked with the “other” hallmark: the trademark used by Conquistador (a shield enclosing a horse and rider). Both Spratling and Conquistador made the same Spratling designs, so we often find two identical designs: one marked with the primary Spratling de Mexico, tertiary Eagle 13, and the “other” mark Conquistador Shield. The other of the same design would be marked with the primary Spratling de Mexico and the tertiary Eagle 13 only. We would then know that the item without the “other” mark was produced at Spratling’s ranch, while the item bearing the “other” Conquistador Shield was produced in Mexico City at Conquistador’s factory.
|Spratling de Mexico: Circa 1949 – 1951||Conquistador Shield: Circa 1949 – 1951. “Other” mark used for designs actually produced in Conquistador’s factory|
Spratling signed the original contract with Conquistador on January 1, 1949. Conquistador was to be responsible for all production and marketing of a special group of up to 300 Spratling designs, and in return, Spratling was to be paid specified royalties. Conquistador amended the contract several times. (One change involved Conquistador’s inability to live up to the production quantities specified in their contract, which was why Spratling also began to produce these new designs at his ranch at Taxco el Viejo.) In November 1950, Spratling’s attorney notified Conquistador that Spratling was canceling their contract because of Conquistador’s inability to meet production levels, lack of marketing, and probably most importantly, that Conquistador had not made the specified royalty payments. Spratling’s attorney told Conquistador that they had permission to continue to use Spratling’s primary Spratling de Mexico hallmark ONLY for those items in production at that moment. Nevertheless, Conquistador continued to produce the Spratling designs until the contract was finally cancelled. During the time from late 1950 when Conquistador could no longer use the Spratling de Mexico mark until the contract was actually cancelled (probably very early 1952), Conquistador produced the Spratling designs using their own hallmark as a primary mark with Spratling’s tertiary Eagle 13. It is likely that the later production of these Spratling designs was not authorized, but collectors value these Spratling designs marked with the Conquistador Shield Sterling Mexico as highly as those marked with the Spratling de Mexico primary mark. Conquistador also produced modified Spratling designs as well as their own designs and used Spratling’s Eagle 13 tertiary mark along with Conquistador’s hallmark that spells out the name “Conquistador.” These Conquistador designs and items appear to be not valued by Spratling collectors.
Spratling’s Third Design Period: 1951 – 1967
When the Conquistador contract was finally cancelled, Spratling – who had continued to produce his designs at his ranch in Taxco el Viejo – used the same basic primary mark, WS Script, that he had used for his Alaskan models. The Mexican government had withdrawn the Eagle 13 upon cancellation of the Conquistador contract. During the period of time before a new Eagle mark was issued to Spratling, he used the tertiary marks 925 Later or (rarely) Sterling. For less than a year, Spratling also used the mark Spratling of Mexico but because he apparently was unable to register that mark in Mexico, he quickly abandoned it.
Circa 1951(or early 1952), the Mexican government issued to Spratling the Eagle 30 tertiary mark (which replaced the Eagle 13), and the Eagle 30 remained assigned to Spratling until circa 1965.
By 1956, Spratling was again permitted to register his name (“Spratling”) in Mexico to be used as a part of his primary hallmarks. Spratling designed a hallmark that included “William Spratling Taxco Mexico with .925 above his script initials. When the die maker produced this stamp for Spratling, he enlarged the “S” in Spratling so that it descended below the line encircling Spratling’s script initials. This mark became the logo Spratling used for the rest of his life. We refer to this primary mark as WS Script Circle S (because of the enlarged “S”). By 1962 Spratling’s business was growing and his use of his hallmark dies was increasing sufficiently that, because of wear, they needed to be replaced. Spratling ordered new hallmark dies and the stamp that the die maker produced was very similar to the WS Script Circle S except that it did not have an enlarged “S.” We refer to that primary mark as WS Script Circle. Both of these primary marks were used in conjunction with the tertiary mark, Eagle 30.
In the mid 1950s, Spratling agreed to design for the Pierre Marques Hotel in Acapulco, a group of articles that included key tags, ashtrays, champagne buckets and stands, martini pitchers, finger bowls, beer mugs, butter dishes, crepe suzette pans, and coffee services. These designs were made of silver plate and ebony. All included an applied nautilus design that the hotel referred to as “The Pierre Marques Star.” The primary hallmark (and only hallmark) that appeared on these silver plated items is shown below. None of these materials has been seen in any material other than silver plate, and therefore, no tertiary mark was used. Items stamped with this hallmark were Spratling’s designs, but the items were not produced by Spratling.
Hotel Pierre Marques: Circa 1957
Circa 1964, Spratling again needed replacement stamps made. This time, the die maker created a similar version except that the mark was more square than round. Therefore we refer to this primary mark as WS Script Square. (There are several authentic variations of this mark.) This last Spratling primary mark was in use from circa 1964 until Spratling’s death in 1967. In 1964, it too, was used in conjunction with the tertiary Eagle 30. However, circa 1965, the management structure of Spratling’s company changed, and due to this change, the Mexican government withdrew the Eagle 30 tertiary mark and replaced it with the tertiary mark, Eagle 63. Therefore we find the primary mark WS Script Square used legitimately with either the Eagle 30 or the Eagle 63.
|WS Script Square: Circa 1964 – 196||Eagle 30: Circa 1951 – 1965||WS Script Square: Circa 1964 – 196||Eagle 63: Circa 1965 – 1967|
All items, including Spratling designs, that have been produced since 1979 under the auspices of the Sucesores de William Spratling are marked with the current Mexican registry mark TS-24 along with a replica of an older Spratling hallmark.
Spratling also designed furniture, tin and copper ware, and gold jewelry. The following are primary marks appearing on these varied materials
|WS Wood Print: Circa 1931 – 1946||WS Wood Script: Circa 1951 – 1967||Tin: Circa 1931 – 1944||Copper: Circa 1931 – 1944||Gold: Circa 1951 – 1967|
There is currently a new hallmark in use at the Spratling Ranch. The company, William Spratling S.A. de C.V. (Sucesores de William Spratling), has recently created a line of jewelry designed not by Spratling, but by Giulia Modena. Her designs are crafted by the same artisans who are also currently producing reissued Spratling designs. These new jewelry designs do not carry the traditional Spratling hallmarks. Each of the designs uses a newly created “Rancho” hallmark as shown below. The bracelets, necklaces and earrings are a synthesis of ancient Mexican motifs with Art Deco designs, and are available for purchase in Taxco.
EXAMPLES OF HALLMARK FAKERY
Unfortunately we are seeing an increasing number of Spratling items bearing improper hallmarks. In an effort to share information about those incorrect hallmarks, I am including the photo of one of the “improper” primary hallmarks circa 1940 – 1946 (on the left) next to a “correct” one (on the right).
Many dies were used to mark the Spratling silver items, and each die had a different pattern of wear. Because of this we may find many slight variations in the hallmark, but the basics remain the same. The lettering around the circumference of the circle was hand done and irregular. Contrast the correct hallmark on the right with the regularity of lettering around the circle in the photo of the fake hallmark on the left. The left photo is that of a hallmark that appeared on several Spratling items offered at a Dan Ripley auction in September 1998. After careful evaluation, it was determined that the pieces stamped with this hallmark (photo on left) had NOT been made during Spratling’s lifetime, and those items were removed from the auction. Thank you! to Dan Ripley for having the courage to ask authenticity questions about his auction merchandise and for his willingness to share his information and his photos!
These two FAKE hallmarks on the right have been found together on a number of pieces of Spratling jewelry. These two marks were NEVER used together! They are from two different time periods! This illustrates why it is so important to know more about the usage and time frame of each hallmark. It is not enough to just see the familiar WS mark on an item. The WS Print Brand mark has been seen only rarely and, in each case, was used alone. This mark apparently has been copied from a photo in the book Mexican Silver (page 33) by Morrill and Berk. The photograph as it appears in the book shows the single WS Print Brand mark as the only hallmark on a very early (and unique example) of a pendant given by Spratling to Ms. Morrill’s grandmother. Note the perfect regularity in the letters in the oval cartouche Spratling Silver. They appear to have been printed by machine rather than the hand done letters in the authentic oval cartouche shown earlier in this section.
|As in the photograph above on the right, the WS Print Brand mark on the left has been copied from the photo in Mexican Silver. The letters and numbers in the other marks appear to be machine crafted rather than hand done. They are too precise and regular and, again, are inappropriate for use with the WS Print Brand primary mark.|
Note the perfect regularity in the letters around the perimeter of the circle in this WS Print Circle mark shown on the right. The WS initials in the center of this mark are another application of the photo in Mexican Silver. The authentic WS Print Circle mark has differently styled center initials.
The fake WS Print Circle primary mark below on the left has letters that are fairly regular, but the most obvious indication of this fake mark is the broad (more horizontal) “M” in the words Made and Mexico. Contrast it with the authentic mark on the right. The fake mark shows two silver rivets that are a part of the construction of the particular piece this mark appeared on. However those rivets have nothing to do with the non authentic elements of the hallmark.
Fake Hallmark Note the broad “M” in Made and in Mexico.
Authentic Hallmark WS Print Circle: Circa 1940 – 1946
None of the first design period marks shown below is authentic.
The spacing, scale, proportions, and the details of the letters are unlike original hallmarks. Hallmarks alone are not sufficient to judge authenticity. In each case the construction of the item, comparison to verified authentic examples, weight, relationship of the hallmark to the design, and analysis of the wear pattern and patina are factors IN COMBINATION WITH the hallmark and hallmark groupings that – when considered together – permit a credible judgment of authenticity.
These hallmarks pictured above are only a very few of the fake marks we often see in the marketplace today. It is not necessary – or even desirable – to try to memorize each of these questionable hallmarks. As soon as we learn to recognize these specific marks, those who are determined to create Spratling items “designed to deceive” will fabricate other questionable marks. It is impossible to keep up with every variation of non authentic hallmarks. Rather, it is very important to study the elements consistent in authentic hallmarks so that we can learn to recognize those authentic marks from each period. That hallmark information, in conjunction with the analysis of design, scale, proportion, materials, weight, construction, and pattern of usage will create the degree of connoisseurship that allows us to feel confident as we build a collection of Spratling’s silver treasures.
Please remember that even “correct” hallmarks can be replicated. A study of hallmarks is essential, but it is only one part of the puzzle.
Certainly, a majority of the Spratling treasures we find have authentic hallmarks. Each of us, as collectors, has a responsibility to learn as much as we possibly can about authenticity in patina, construction, design, and hallmarks before we make a purchase. If we find, however, that a purchase seems not to be authentic, don’t be afraid to discuss the matter with the seller.
- Goddard, Phyllis M., Spratling Silver: A Field Guide, Keenan Tyler Paine, Altadena CA 2003
- Littleton, Taylor D. The Color of Silver: William Spratling, His Life and Art, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge 2000
- Morrill, Penny C., William Spratling and the Mexican Silver Renaissance: Maestros de Plata, Harry N. Abrams, New York; San Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio 2002
- Morrill, Penny Chittim, and Berk, Carole A., Mexican Silver: 20th Century Handwrought Jewelry & Metalwork, Schiffer Publishing, Atglen, PA 1994
- Reed, John Shelton, “The Man from New Orleans,” Oxford American, November/December 2000: 102–107
- Spratling, William, File on Spratling: An Autobiography, Little, Brown and Company, Boston 1967
- Spratling Silver: A Field Guide
- Recognizing a William Spratling Treasure Author: Phyllis M. Goddard